Delta has set off a regulatory squabble at the Transportation Department among U.S. airlines over access to Tokyo’s close-in Haneda Airport, which has traditionally been unavailable for U.S.-Japan flights.

Delta was one of three U.S. airlines granted limited access to Haneda last year and was the only one to receive slots for flights to two cities, Detroit and Los Angeles.

However, the carrier recently advised the Transportation Department that Haneda service from its Detroit hub is “underperforming relative to the West Coast-Haneda service.”

As a result, the carrier is asking for a dispensation to transfer the Haneda route from Detroit to Seattle, a proposal that codeshare partner Alaska Airlines has endorsed.

But the proposal triggered strongly-worded protests from United, which didn’t get any Haneda slots last year, and from Hawaiian, which received one slot for Honolulu-Tokyo service.

Both carriers said that if Delta can’t make a go of the service that it proposed when it received the slot, the DOT should withdraw the slot from Delta and award it to another carrier.

United, armed with a supporting letter from San Francisco, said it would promptly make use of the rights to serve Haneda from SFO.

American, which received rights for New York-Haneda service, did not object to Delta’s proposal but said that if the DOT allows one carrier to switch gateways, it should extend that opportunity to all, though it did not explicitly state that it wanted to move its Haneda service from New York.

Hawaiian wrote to the DOT that American’s plea for flexibility should also be denied. The airline said it was the only carrier authorized for Haneda flights that “continued that service undiminished and uninterrupted following the earthquake and tsunami,” adding that it was eager to expand its service to Japan.

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